I BLAME the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). All of the
papers had pieces ready for when the new Archbishop of Canterbury
was announced, but the peg for them recedes into the future. There
were rumours both that the CNC had met last week, and that it would
meet on Monday this week. The excitement was clearly too much for
the Daily Mail, which could delay no longer Martin
Bashir's ejaculation on the comment pages. He did not ask whether
this was the worst Archbishop of Canterbury ever: he merely
asserted that Dr Williams had produced "the most foggy and
frustrating presentation of the Christian faith we've probably ever
heard from such a senior cleric".
This is a little bit kinder than the kicking off that the
Mail had me write about Lord Carey, but it is not very
The Mail's recurrent complaint against the clergy is
that they refuse to preach Mail editorials, preferring
some nonsense of their own about love and heaven. Bashir adds a
specific twist: not only is Dr Williams guilty of ambiguity: he
also refused to give interviews on television. In particular, he
wouldn't give an interview to Bashir, thereby forfeiting his chance
to exercise spiritual leadership.
This makes sense when you remember that, if you work in
television, nothing is real or important unless it happens on a
screen, and nothing is really important unless it is on the bit of
television that you yourself run. So Bashir explains that.
"When it was announced that Prince William and Kate Middleton
were engaged, journalists around the world requested an interview
with the Archbishop. It seemed a perfect opportunity for him to
present the case for Christian marriage.
"The wedding would be a joyful occasion for the entire
Commonwealth, and there would be no need to sidestep any
ecclesiastical/political landmines. How could he miss such an open
Perhaps because he felt that this was a job for the wedding
sermon, watched by tens of millions around the world. Perhaps
because he is stupendously bad at interviews unless he feels fairly
confident in his interviewer. And even then, things can turn out
wrong. Had he not been confident that his old pupil Christopher
Landau understood him, he would not have said that thing he did
Bashir went on to say that the Archbishop had avoided the
opportunity to present "a rational case for Christianity".
"A perfect opportunity would have been to appear on BBC2's
Newsnight on the evening of the royal wedding. But he
didn't take the chance. Having covered the wedding for the American
network NBC News, I was invited to appear on Newsnight.
The discussion focused on issues such as the Duchess's dazzling
dress, the modernisation of monarchy and the future for Prince
"But no one mentioned the ceremony's religious importance. No
one was inclined to discuss the vows that William and his bride had
made before God and the nation as a whole. Such thoughts were
conspicuous by their absence. As the programme proceeded, I decided
to throw in my two-penneth worth about this omission.
"My intervention was commented upon in an article in The
Guardian headlined: 'The royal wedding was a religious
ceremony. Why won't the media face up to this fact? Why won't the
Church of England?'"
Bashir was, in fact, careful and measured in his discussion of
the great sharia catastrophe; so it was a little hard to see what
exactly the Archbishop had then said wrong, but at least he was
perfectly clear about the importance of Bashir in our national
One further oddity. The piece was beefed up at the end by a
truly memorable quote: "One churchman observed: 'He proudly wears a
Druid cassock, but will not wear the 'breastplate of righteousness'
that the Apostle Paul describes in the New Testament." Yet these
words appear nowhere else in a Google search. God forbid that they
should have been made up by a desperate sub in the Mail's
office. There must be someone outside the Mail's office
who still talks like that, if only in The English
Churchman, or Christian Voice.
THE Mail also had coverage of one of the most wholly
wicked religious stories I can ever remember: the trial in
Canterbury of the leader of a group of Nigerian slavers who
threatened their victims with supernatural punishment: "One girl
had hair cut from her armpits by a man wearing feathers. Others
were slashed with knives, forced to drink foul-smelling potions and
had blood taken with syringes to 'cast a spell' over them.
"The girls were told they would die or never bear children if
they tried to escape or revealed what had happened to them."
Perhaps the only uplifting part of the story is the way in which
the papers have carefully avoided collective blame for one gang's
crimes. This is not the way they traditionally handle stories of
child abuse - yet I don't know of any story of Roman Catholic child
abuse which compares to this in horror.